This is a long book at over 600 pages of small print, but I devoured it in a little over two days. I even got up to continue reading it in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, I needed to know where it was taking me.
It's sometimes strange being given a novel as a gift, but the friends who gave this to me got it just right even though we haven't known each other long. It was favourably reviewed in the 'Algarve Resident' so they purchased it at the Griffin Bookshop in Almancil,Portugal, which serves the English-speaking community of the Algarve so well.
The connection with Portugal is that the book starts in Oporto in 1800. Napoleon is marching across Europe and the Jews of Portugal, although 'hidden' and baptised, are suffering the threat of a renewed Inquisition. Although some of the consequences of this are frightening and unjust, John, the hero of the tale is from a loving and open minded background, which somehow tempers the violence and injustice. I identified with John strongly, being both Jewish and having a Scottish father myself, and I spend a few months a year in Portugal. My family might also have welcomed an African stranger into their family as did John's.
The story proceeds from here into areas of mysticism and connections with nature, folk medicine and the Earth. Into this are interwoven tales of love and desire, of loss and tragedy and an epic search over Continents. I cried when I finished reading the book, not because it was sad, but it had touched my emotions so many times I couldn't bear the ending of it. It is now out on loan to special friends who will appreciate it.... but I shall want it back soon to re-read and return to the adventure. I'm sure I shall cry again!